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This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today, including one with The Prime Minister of Denmark.
First, I would say that nurses, including paediatric nurses in intensive care, are earning far more under this Government than they were under the last Labour Government. [HON. MEMBER: "Answer"].
Their earnings have risen by an extra 30 per cent, in real terms. Secondly, I would say that the very scheme that was criticised a few days ago from the Opposition Benches means that nurses working in key specialties such as intensive care stand to benefit from the proposals currently being considered in the nursing and midwifery negotiating council. For the first time the new structure will recognise—[Interruption.]
Let us get the facts first — I know that the hon. Gentleman does not like them. For the first time, that structure will recognise the increasing clinical skills of nurses, midwives and health visitors and those with specialist qualifications. Do not listen to the Opposition is the advice that I would give to the nurses. Listen to the party which has provided more for the nurses and which will provide an improved structure.
Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity of reading reports in today's national press that the cost of educating children in the Inner London education authority is much the same as that of educating children in independent schools? Given the quality of education that comes from ILEA, does she agree that more funds and more resources do not equal better education? Does she further agree that the Education Reform Bill, which will be debated today, is the real signpost forward?
I agree that the Inner London education authority is notorious for its extravagance, but not famous for the results that it obtains for children within its care. The Education Reform Bill will give London boroughs the chance to opt out of ILEA and also give any school the chance to opt out of ILEA or those boroughs. The Bill will therefore provide more choice and opportunity.
When Britain's real interest rates are among the highest of all the developed countries, and when the pound is rising to levels that inflict serious disadvantages on our exporters, why will the Government not use their power to bring about a significant cut in interest rates?
We shall reduce interest rates when it is prudent to do so. Any announcement will be made in the customary way, adopted by all Governments, through the Bank of England, but only when it is prudent to do so.
Will The Prime Minister tell me what is prudent about imposing unnecessary cost burdens on British producers and British households? What is prudent about ensuring that the pound stays at a level that will make our export performance less advanced than it otherwise could be? Under The Prime Minister, British exports have risen by 30 per cent, and imports by 75 per cent. Is that the trend that The Prime Minister wants to see continue?
Our financial policy has stood the test of eight years. It has a soundness and success that is envied by other countries and it has led to a higher standard of living than any standard previously enjoyed in this country. I find it somewhat ironic to hear about industrial costs from the right hon. Gentleman, when his Government put on a national insurance surcharge which we had to take off.
One thing that can certainly be said about The Prime Minister's financial policy is that no one knows what it currently is. Is The Prime Minister talking about the medium-term financial strategy, which has now been utterly abandoned? Is she talking about M3, the money measure, which has now been utterly abandoned, or is she talking about not intervening in the currency markets when her Government are spending billions of pounds trying to save the dollar? If The Prime Minister wants to be consistent in her belief that there should not be burdens on British industry, why does she not cut interest rates now?
I have given the right hon. Gentleman the answer to his first question. If he does not know what our financial and economic policy is, he must be living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
Mr. Brit tan:
In view of yesterday's deeply deplorable French hostage deal, will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity today of re-affirming the Government's longstanding policy of not doing such deals with terrorists or their sponsors? Does my right hon. Friend agree that such deals virtually guarantee that more hostages will be taken in future?
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that treating with terrorists only leads to more kidnappings and violence. That is why we will not do that. The best defence against terrorists is to make it clear that we will never give in to their demands. That has been, and will continue to be, our policy.
The matter is bound to come up at the European summit later this week. I shall reiterate our policy then. I believe that our policy is the best and the only policy to defeat terrorists.
Many hon. Members and many thousands of people throughout the country who have been campaigning for Anna Chertkova, who has been imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital in Russia for 13 years simply for being a Christian, will share my delight at the recent announcement that she is likely to be released in January. When my right hon. Friend meets Mr. Gorbachev, will she thank him for the progress in Anna's case so far? Will she also urge him to ensure that the release takes place?
I share my hon. Friend's hope that Mrs. Chertkova will be released. I am aware that a number of people have been released since I went to Moscow and indeed before that—[Interruption.]I am surprised that Opposition Members find this a laughing matter.
I left a long list of cases with the Soviet Government, and a number of people have been released. However, there are many thousands more inside. We hope that Mrs. Chertkova will indeed be released in January. It will be a comparatively short meeting on Monday, at which I shall not be able to raise individual cases although, of course, human rights will be raised, as always.
Has The Prime Minister had an opportunity to read Saturday's edition of the Leicester Mercury,in which it was announced that £240,000 of Government money would be spent on a private hospital in Leicester? Is she as appalled as I am at that misuse of public money?
Does she not agree that if there is money to be spent on the Health Service it should be spent on National Health Service hospitals, and not on private hospitals?
The money spent on the National Health Service has gone up enormously—[Interruption.]It is paid for, not by Governments, but by the great British taxpayer. The average family now pays £1,500 each year to the National Health Service. Any extra money that goes into private health does not take up beds in the Health Service, but adds to health care in this country.
When my right hon. Friend shortly meets Mr. Gorbachev, will she reaffirm that the existence of Britain's independent nuclear strategic deterrent is not up for negotiation in any wider talks that may follow on from the intermediate nuclear forces treaty? Does she agree that it is one thing for the United States and the USSR to talk about 50 per cent, reductions in their strategic weaponry, but quite another for us to consider abandoning totally our last remaining nuclear deterrent?
We shall keep our independent nuclear deterrent. It is not part of the present negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the point. As I have had occasion to point out in the past, when we modernise our nuclear deterrent with Trident it will be a smaller proportion of Soviet nuclear forces than Polaris was in 1970, and that will be the case even after the 50 per cent, reductions in Soviet nuclear forces.
I replied to that question either at the last Question Time or the Question Time before. However, I shall do so again. Students on grants are treated differently from those who, during their training, receive pay for their work. Nurses come into the latter category, and all who receive pay for their work are treated in the normal way and will make the normal contribution, subject to the normal reliefs, towards paying for local government.
Will my right hon. Friend consider today the implications of the extradition legislation that is at present before the Irish Parliament? Is it not in direct conflict with the European convention? Does it not represent a unilateral breaking of an agreement that has existed between our countries since 1965? Does not the application of the prime facie rule to United Kingdom warrants alone make us the least favoured nation in Europe in that regard? What possible justification can there be for the Irish Government, who profess to want better relations with us, taking such action?
As my hon. Friend is aware, the Irish Government have taken a decision to ratify the European convention on the suppression of terrorism. However, they have unfortunately taken some further steps which we believe could make it much more difficult to secure extradition than in the recent past. We regret that, notwithstanding our representations, the Irish Government are taking additional measures that could make extradition more difficult. It is proposed to give a role to the Irish Attorney-General, whereby he must satisfy himself as to the intention to prosecute the fugitive and as to the sufficiency of the evidence. We are naturally concerned about the compatibility of that with the continuation of the viable extradition arrangements between the two countries.
It is essential that we maintain effective extradition arrangements so that there is no hiding place for terrorists. I agree with my hon. Friend that what the Republic is doing by taking this step is making us the least favoured nation in this matter.
Is The Prime Minister aware that there is great public concern in Northern Ireland over the fact that the Southern Ireland Government are not now fully committed to the extradition of terrorists for so-called political crimes? Is she also aware the members of that Southern Ireland Government have recently said that they are not happy about legislation which they say is unacceptable, unworkable and unconstitutional? Will The Prime Minister assure the people of Northern Ireland that her Government have not gone soft on the principle of extradition from the Republic, given the war situation that exists in the Province?
I hope that I have made it clear that there is a risk that extradition could become more difficult because of the new measures taken by the Irish Republic and that they would be a step backwards from the existing arrangements under which no application is made to a judicial authority for a warrant without there being a firm intention to prosecute based on sufficiency of evidence. Therefore, we are surprised that a need is perceived for any further procedural step.